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Planning For The Worst In A Nuclear World


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Weapons of mass destruction have been with us since the bombing events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. The fear of the “wrong weapons" falling into the “wrong hands" is now an everyday consideration in our world. Unstable governments in North Korea and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Iran continues to defy United Nations resolutions and sanctions as it attempts to obtain its own nuclear arsenal. In total there are now nine different countries that have nuclear weapons capability.

Over the last sixty five years, we have come to the dubious realization that we now have the power and capability to destroy the planet. After World War Two, a complete understanding of the ramifications of this destructive capability came slowly at first. If you were in elementary school between 1950 and 1980 in the United States, you may remember the “duck and cover" civil defense instructional film created to keep Americans safe in the event of an atomic bomb.

In retrospect, this civil defense film is, in fact, pretty comical. American school children were instructed, in the event of an nuclear bomb attack, to simply duck under their desks and cover their heads to insure their safety. Indeed, Americans (and later the British public) were insured that, by taking these simple precautions, that they would be safe from a nuclear bomb. Of course, an increased understanding of the long term effects of fallout from a nuclear bomb's radiation put an end to these civil defense instructional films.

Many of us may also remember the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". This black comedy parodies global nuclear destruction and the mentality of the Cold War. The film's popularity is due to the fact that our society had come to the realization of the absurdity of the ramifications of global destruction. The film became an important part of popular culture by its selection and admission into the National Film Registry.

The Dr. Strangelove film did highlight the underlying fear of the public about nuclear weapons during the years of the cold war. Consider that many countries built fallout shelters for military and government officials. Sturdy brick buildings in the United States were deemed residential fallout shelters while underground subway stations were often used as planning tools for a potential nuclear attack in the Eastern Bloc countries. Like the duck and cover civil defense instructional film, the residential fallout shelter of the Cold War years would not have had much of a positive result if a nuclear engagement had actually occurred.

So, thinking about the potential nuclear threat to the planet, what planning does makes sense? Is there something that can be used as a way to try and rebuild if the unthinkable actually happens? Even better, is it something that we can use to scientifically advance society today, while concurrently utilizing it as a hedge against a potential nuclear problem of tomorrow? The answer to all these questions is positive.

Consider that several countries have been actively involved in a recently completed project which has been dubbed by our tabloid media as the “Doomsday Vault. " However, this international project should really be considered as a lock box of agriculture. It is more accurately referred to by the name of the Global Seed Vault.

In 2004, the United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources created a formal global network for storing, studying, and sharing seeds. This treaty led to the creation of fourteen hundred seed banks in more than one hundred countries worldwide. However, many of these seed banks have been the victim of various problems from nature, poor storage facilities, unstable political locations, and a myriad of other security issues.

In response to these problems at the various international seed banks, Norway has just completed construction of a $9 million facility built deep inside a sandstone mountain on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen called the Global Seed Vault. The goal of the Global Seed Vault is to store and protect samples of every type of seed from every seed collection in the world. The vault has the capacity to store over two billion seeds. It has three storage rooms. Filling half of one of the rooms will make it the largest seed storage facility in the world. The seeds will be sealed in specially designed four-ply foil packages that will be placed in sealed boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault

The vault is an effort to organize and safeguard holdings of all the varieties of the twenty one crop plants. The vault's seed collection will represent the products of some 10,000 years of plant breeding by the world's farmers. Though most are no longer widely planted, the varieties contain vital genetic traits still regularly used in plant breeding.

The Global Seed Vault will feature permafrost that will insure that the seed is preserved by temperatures maintained well below the freezing point. Operators plan to replace the air inside the vault each winter, when temperatures in Spitsbergen are around -18 °C. In the event that a catastrophe meant that the vault was abandoned, the permafrost would continue to keep the seeds viable. Also, seeds will further be protected by thick walls of reinforced concrete, two airlocks and high security doors. Also, the entrance tunnel to the Global Seed Vault is designed to withstand bomb blasts and earthquakes.

With plant species disappearing at an alarming rate, the Global Seed Vault is designed to hold more than 165,000 types of genetically modified seeds. It is stored history of the Earth's ability to modify its agricultural design. To have an historical inventory of seed for study, research, and permanent storage makes perfect sense. In addition to the benefits it provides for today, the Global Seed Vault could mean an opportunity for rebirth for a nuclear world of tomorrow. Indeed, unlike the “duck and cover" civil defense film or the “fallout shelter, " the Global Seed Vault represents a far more practical plan should the worst happen in a nuclear world.

James William Smith has worked in Senior management positions for some of the largest Financial Services firms in the United States for the last twenty five years. He has also provided business consulting support for insurance organizations and start up businesses. He has always been interested in writing and listening to different viewpoints on interesting topics. Visit his website at


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